The girl stood up in court, walked before those who supported her – and those who didn’t – and lowered the microphone to meet her slight, but now healthy, stature.
Pressed against her was a stuffed animal and a folder of photographs authorities took of her body to document the abuse. Nearly two years ago, when she was removed from her home, the teen weighed 66 pounds – weakened from severe beatings and starvation.
Once, she told authorities, she knew parents must disciple their children.
But on Tuesday morning before a packed courtroom gallery, she told the mother and father who took her in – the couple who were to be her refuge from a birth mother who abused and neglected her – that they were wrong for inflicting such punishments.
They were wrong, she said, for forcing her to drink hydrogen peroxide and her own bodily fluids, and to eat dog food.
They were wrong for chaining her to a bed in a windowless basement room with a bucket for a toilet. For attacking her with a hard-core foam bat and a broken curtain rod.
For stealing her childhood.
“I am so angry and so hurt by what … (my parents) did to me. It was beyond horrible,” the girl said, her voice steady at the court hearing where her parents would be ordered to serve the maximum 5 years, 8 months in prison for inflicting years of physical, emotional and mental abuse. “Two people who took me in as a foster child and then adopted me, they were supposed to protect me and give me a good life. But the opposite happened.
“I will never understand why I was their main target. Why they hated me so much, called me names, put me down, beat and hurt me so much. At times I thought they were going to kill me.”
The teen at the center of the abuse case became known as “The Girl in the Basement” after The Eagle began reporting last year on the child-in-need-of-care case that placed her and her three siblings in foster homes.
The girl is not being identified to protect her identity. She was 14 years old when authorities placed her in police protective custody in March 2014.
The mother and father were criminally charged with multiple counts of child abuse, aggravated battery and other criminal charges about a week after The Eagle published its first story about the girl as part of its In Need of Care series last June.
Initially, the parents denied the abuse. But in July, the mother and father pleaded guilty as charged: Three counts of child abuse, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of aggravated endangerment of a child, one count of criminal restraint.
The father also was convicted of one count of criminal damage to property for breaking out a Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office patrol car window when he was arrested, of violating a protective order and intimidating a witness for asking one of his adult daughters to recant or change her testimony in the child abuse case.
Although some of the couple’s proceedings had been held jointly, on Tuesday they received separate sentencing hearings at the request of the father’s defense attorney, Charles O’Hara. He acknowledged that the father was culpable for the abuse because he knew it was happening and refused to stop it, but said the mother was responsible for actually inflicting it.
Four relatives of the father allowed to speak on his behalf Tuesday characterized him as a good father and war veteran who loved his children; they said they saw no signs of abuse. They and O’Hara asked the judge to grant the father probation.
The mother’s attorney, Ryan Gering, told the judge that she was a woman who had made mistakes that would be better addressed through community-based treatment programs instead of prison. The mother is “willing to do what it requires to make sure that these things will never happen again,” he said, also asking for probation for his client.
But Sedgwick County Assistant District Attorney Angela Wilson said there was no program that could fix what went wrong with the parents. She called the abuse “unconscionable” and the worst she has seen in her 20-year career.
The couple “created a prison for this young lady – for this child – that the child felt that she could never escape. … So judge we’re asking you to impose the maximum sentence in this case,” she said.
“And we submit to you that it’s not enough.”
Sedgwick County District Court Judge Patrick Walters ordered each to serve 68 months prison – just more than one year for every year of abuse they admitted to subjecting their adoptive daughter to.
“I keep coming back to the duration and severity of abuse for the victim who spoke here today,” Walters said. “… What she said is true: No human being should have to ever endure that type of abuse. It’s just not humane. And to make matters worse, it was done by the individuals that were supposed to protect her.”
The Eagle has not named the mother or father because doing so would identify the girl and her siblings. The Eagle began following the girl’s case in April 2014 after District Judge Tim Henderson gave the newspaper special access to child-in-need-of-care petitions to be transparent about how the system works and to show the public the extent of child neglect and abuse in Sedgwick County.
The couple adopted the girl when she was 4. Neglect from her biological mother left her severely underweight and developmentally delayed.
This abuse case came to the fore after another child in the girl’s home, an 11-year-old boy, disclosed the abuse to a school counselor. A doctor later diagnosed her as a victim of child torture.
On Tuesday morning in court, the mother and father both made tearful pleas for leniency before their sentences were imposed.
The girl, in court, said she will likely forgive her adoptive parents one day for the abuse. But, she said, she will not forget.
“I have a life now. And that life is overstuffed with joy, love, peace, fun and most importantly, God,” she said.
“I was the girl in the basement. I was a victim with no way out. And facing potential death. But no more.
“I’m not the girl in the basement. Now, I am a victor. A survivor.”
A Sedgwick County girl who was abused by her parents addressed them in court Tuesday during their sentencing:
“Your honor, I’m here today because I am so angry and so hurt by what … (my parents) did to me. It was beyond horrible. Two people who took me in as a foster child and then adopted me, they were supposed to protect me and give me a good life. But the opposite happened. I will never understand why I was their main target. Why they hated me so much, called me names, put me down, beat and hurt me so much. At times I thought they were going to kill me.
“I’m glad that they finally told the truth and admitted their guilt. But I know that they are not sorry in their hearts. They should be sorry for what they did. But they’re not. They’re only sorry that they finally got caught. They deserve the worst possible sentence, just like they gave me.
Parents are supposed to love you, not think of new ways to hurt you just for the fun of it. I was so weak, tired and really thin when I was taken out of that house. As if starving me from food was not enough, they made me drink hydrogen peroxide. It made me so sick, plus lots of other yucky things and it hurt my mouth and my teeth and caused lots of damage. They thought it was funny when I was hungry and they would not let me eat while everyone else was eating and tease me with food in front of me to look at, but then give me nothing. Or when they did give me something to eat, it was nasty things like dog food.
“They put me in with the dogs a lot in the super cold garage in the winter, freezing, wet, made to stand like a statue with my arms holding weights so long it felt like they were going to fall off my body.
“This is worse: They really got mean when they made me drink my own vomit and urine and my own poop. It was disgusting. What kind of person would do something like that? All the beatings, kickings, knocked down, slamming my head into doors, pushed down the stairs and more messed with my teeth as well as my insides and who knows what else. They often put me out in the freezing cold garage completely naked, not even any underpants, while being soaked in water and
made to stand perfectly still. Many times they made me sit in a scalding hot water, which caused me to have extremely painful blisters. So many years of very bad stuff.
“Then they took me away from school for a whole year and kept me home. As if that weren’t bad enough already, it got real bad, real quick. No more teachers or nurses to notice me starving or to see the bumps on my head or marks on my body. They could hurt me all they wanted, and they did.
“Another horrible thing I wish I could forget but can’t yet, more times than I can count I was chained up by my neck and sad to say, I was usually naked. I was also left to sleep that way, even in the cold of winter on the concrete floor or in the bathtub. They didn’t care. Being chained up by my neck all night or even during the day, unable to hardly move, was worse than horrible. Those people did everything within their power to harm me and to keep me trapped where I could have died. What would it feel like to you if you were chained up naked and made to drink your own vomit? What would it feel like to you if you were made to eat dog poop or drink your own urine? What if you were made to go to school in urine-soaked clothes? How would you like to not have a bathroom to use all night and you had to use a bucket to go pee and poop in and most times with no toilet paper. And sometimes you weren’t even nice enough to leave the bucket. What if you were duct taped to a chair or a bed naked with socks stuffed in and duct tape all over your mouth and head? Think of what it felt like to have your hands and feet tied with duct tape, tied up to a bed and to be beat all over your body with a belt. Sounds fun, huh? It wasn’t.
I can’t believe how common it became for you to not only lock me in the basement room but how common it was also to chain me up with chains around my neck. Holy cow! What in the heck were you thinking?
Your anger was out of control. Hurting me, putting me down, embarrassing me, threatening me and more. Living in fear all the time was awful. And then the small dog cage. Do you have any idea how much my body, legs and arms hurt after being locked in that cage all night? I was a prisoner, so hurt and nowhere to go. It was so small and I was squished inside for all night and not allowed to move. What a scary time. You treated me like a dog and much worse. How would you like it if your head was held under water or if you were hung up in the garage by your neck almost choking to death or if you had the drill held in front of your neck and were threatened to have a hole drilled into your throat if you moved.
“I was so scared I was going to die, especially when you did mean things and would even tell me you wanted me to die. You even told me I was going to end up in a body bag in the bottom of a lake. There are so many more things that you did I’m not even going to say because there are way too many.
“But guess what the bad thing is? The bad thing is that you’re not even sorry for what you did. You’re only sorry that you got caught. If I were you, I would already be right here, begging on my knees, begging to be forgiven and apologizing. But you show no remorse. Absolutely none at all. You have no heart. And if you did, it’s frozen solid.
“But guess what? That’s why I’m writing this. Because I want the longest prison time for you. Your honor, please. Give them many, many, many years in prison. I would be very grateful to you because what they did was wrong and still is very painful to me. Just thinking about what they did to me is very hard. It makes it hard for me to do things in life. Thinking about it really messes with my emotions.
If you’re the one would who went through all that stuff that you put me through then you’d be in the same position that I am. Even your own kids testified against you. Doesn’t that make a siren go off in your head? If your own kids are testifying against you that should make you think, whoa, I really screwed up. Big time.
You say you have health problems. Yeah, right. You did back then, too. Well, you sure weren’t sick enough to keep you from losing your temper and hurting me and putting me through all that stuff. So you’re definitely not sick enough for probation. Your health problems are not even an inkling of what health problems you gave me.
But now, I am blessed by the Almighty King. He gave me the strength to endure what you put me through and he is healing me. I have a life now. And that life is overstuffed with joy, love, peace, fun and most importantly, God. I will forgive you one day but never ever forget. But I can’t do it right now. You have to pay first. I have been a prisoner most of my life because of what you did. And now it’s your turn to be one.
You honor, for the way I was treated, I recommend at least 14 years in prison. Why? Because of the nearly 14 years of my life that they took away and damaged. They came close several times to taking my whole life completely away. I hear that people get less of a prison sentence when it’s their first crime. But it’s not. They have committed thousands of crimes against me over the years. Plus, doesn’t it count that he tried to keep my brother from the authorities? That he tried to get my sister to change her testimony? And … (my father) even broke a police car window when he got mad. Laws have been broken. Doesn’t that count for anything?
“I was the girl in the basement. I was a victim with no way out. And facing potential death. But no more.
“I’m not the girl in the basement. Now, I am a victor. A survivor. Thank you.”